THE vehicular tragedy that led to the loss of eight young lives—seven were public school children, one was a sibling—on an excursion that should have taken upland students to sports and nutrition events should not be taken as an argument to prohibit students from undertaking extracurricular activities that involve travel.
It should reinforce though the implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) that school authorities secure the safety and protection of their wards on and off campus and that parents and guardians formally grant their permission for the off-campus travel of their children only when they are satisfied that precautions for safety have been made.
Such SOPs are stringently followed in private schools. Why are public school officials and parents more lenient in a crucial area with sweeping effects on the life and welfare of children?
From the viewpoint of school officials, students’ participation in off-campus events are important benchmarks of the quality of instruction and training as one’s students compete with their peers in other schools. It brings school pride, renown, and bonus points in promotion for teachers and administrators.
For students and parents, off-campus exposure blends experience-based learning and enjoyment, opportunities to deepen book theories, classroom discussion and student-teacher bonding.
However, the implications of field trips and other off-campus activities—additional expenses, risks and responsibilities, interruptions of regular classes—should make teachers, school administrators and parents carefully review plans before undertaking such activities.
Last July 19, a mini dump truck ferrying a group from three upland Boljoon public schools to three district events held at the town center crashed and fell on its side when its driver claimed he lost control of the brakes while steering the vehicle downhill in Upper Becerril. The accident threw off some students and pinned others.
Aside from the eight young casualties, one parent accompanying the group also died. Many students were injured and brought to the district hospital.
Gov. Gwen Garcia said that she will consult stakeholders to review, among others, the enforcement of a policy banning the use of dump trucks as passenger vehicles, the training of frontliners, such as drivers, concerned with public safety and the provisions on holding of school meets.
The governor said the recent “tragic lesson” in Boljoon should make local executives more conscious of their obligations to ensure public safety and security, reported SunStar Cebu’s Rona Joyce T. Fernandez on July 20.
The open use of dump trucks to transport people is widely practiced around the country, not just in upland areas. Laborers stand or lean dangerously over the sides while being crammed in dump trucks or pick-up vehicles transporting them to and fro project sites. Students and residents who hitch during rush hours can be seen sitting or standing on the open bed of pick-up trucks.
Why are these practices ignored by the authorities when they make people as vulnerable in road accidents as the practice of riding motorcycles without helmets or having more than two riders on a bike?
A German consultant of an upland project implemented in the Cebu south in the 1980s was shocked that public authorities did not just condone this practice but used government vehicles to practice the “hakot (hauling)” system of transporting people en masse with vehicles that were not designed or equipped with safety features or even for basic comfort, like seats, for such use.
The travel risks multiply under certain conditions, such as overloading of passengers, lack of regular vehicle maintenance, poor road conditions, and inclement weather.
School administrators must arrange for proper vehicles, like buses, in field excursions; field trips should be suspended or canceled if minimum requirements of safety and security are not met.